Jessie Borrelle is a writer, editor and producer. Originally from New Zealand, she has been published across Australasia, and her radio work broadcast nationally in Australia. In 2009 she cofounded Paper Radio with Jon Tjhia, an Australian multimedia producer whose forays into sound include radio, short films, site-specific performances, art projects and music.
Paper Radio is an audio journal based in Melbourne, Australia, that takes stories by Australasian writers and fuses them into an alloy of narrative, sound design and illustration. It is divided into two, soon to be three, stations FM is a mix of fiction, fantasy, speculation and other literary collisions. AM is exercises in non-fiction, documentary, social commentary and observation. Shortwave is a soon to be launched experimental channel.
Ideas come to us in many stages of evolution.
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
The idea percolated for a little while before we poured it out.
In 2009 Jon and I cast our nets for stories that sounded like the southern hemisphere — in particular our home countries Australia and New Zealand — we came up short. At least, it felt that way. It seemed as though, in the world of radio and audio, there was room for a circuit breaker: for something that more closely resembled the unique expression and voice of our Antipodean societies. Dulled by imitation essence, we sought to provide a representation that departed from the usual overtures of American and British influence. So we started Paper Radio.
How do you make money?
Our business model most closely resembles the Bluth company’s — as per Arrested Development.
Presently, any money we make is incidental; usually derived from broadcast fees, or commissions. Financing a project or product like Paper Radio offers us great challenges and opportunities. We’re working toward a sustainable mixed-funding model, with revenue coming from various sources, allowing us to remain independent and empowered to consistently remunerate our contributors.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?
A new channel for the podcast, ‘Shortwave’, and a collaboration with ABC Radio National. We’re also polishing off the podcast editions of the two live shows we performed last year (at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival and at Sydney Opera House’s GRAPHIC festival) that have been keeping us busy for the last little while.
How do you make ideas happen?
Ideas come to us in many stages of evolution. Because we work with both fiction and non-fiction, the processes are quite different for each medium. With the help of our amazing editorial and communications team, we seek out ideas but we also accept submissions; both story concepts and completed work.
We use a combination of field recordings, processed samples, original composition and home-made effects to bring the story to life.
Fiction most often arrives fully formed, and the qualities of the story drive the artwork and the sound design. These are custom-made and commissioned specifically to complement the personality and mood of the work. You could use the work bespoke, if you wanted.
Non-fiction is different, with material ranging from autobiography to documentary. As producers, we try to remain attentive to the idiosyncrasies of each idea as it is moves through the various stages of development. The basis is the theme, subject or individual. Most often the podcast would be couched around an interview with supporting voices and material. Once we’ve established and recorded the primary track, then — like a tiramisu — sound and effect are built-in layers in our sound editing suite. We use a combination of field recordings, processed samples, original composition and home-made effects to bring the story to life. Whilst this process is happening, we’re talking with illustrators to create the ‘artwork’ which acts as an album cover, if you will, for publication on paperradio.net.
What does your typical day look like?
A typical day is usually very atypical. Our Paper Radio hours are peppered throughout the week. Often during a production period, we’ll work hours that would horrify even night owls. Usually, several ideas are in development concurrently, and usually at different stages. This could mean that a week might see us conducting interviews, soliciting ideas and opinions through our communication channels, attending meetings with our editorial advisors to discuss future projects and more often than not, we’ll be knee-deep in post production and sound design. We’re constantly in the pursuit of compelling stories, so you’ll see us peering into nooks and crannies, under rugs, and behind trees wherever we go.
The Paper Radio Studio
What are some of the main challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business or organisation in Australia?
In an emerging cultural market like podcasting, there is infinite space and finite resources. Maintaining consistency and quality is a real challenge when time and energy are your most precious resources. Funding is a massive challenge for us. We’re wary of the grant model, which isn’t always as progressive in terms of identifying emerging mediums, and in a world where access to content isn’t often prohibited by cost, it’s difficult to maintain a financial status that can reward our contributors and collaborators as we’d ideally like to.
While we were recognised internationally early on, it took some time for our local industry to acknowledge what we were trying to achieve. After that hurdle was overcome, the challenge was and still is to maintain our editorial independence (whilst welcoming the support of broadcasters and partners), so as not to become absorbed by the more established radio field, and not bow to influences that might knock us off course.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
Sometimes, failure is more productive than success.
Sometimes, there’s not a whole lot of point in doing things predictably well.
What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia, at the moment?
All The Best – FBI’s flagship storytelling show.
Radio Valerie – now-defunct streaming radio, sometimes reappearing in other guises.
Jaye Kranz – innovative radio producer. Look out for her.
Sound Summit – annual experimental music festival in Newcastle
In the dark – brings listeners and audio producers together. Their sole aim is to boost listening cultures.
What about internationally?
Radiolab – always interesting, if no always successful experiments in storytelling science
Zeega – Revolutionizing web publishing and interactive storytelling for a future beyond blogs.
Jonathan Goldstein – experiments with storytelling and radio in a most unique and interesting way.
HowSound – for a kind of behind-the-curtain think about radio-making
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
Not all, but some businesses are in a unique position to invest their influence in markets that affect change. All markets vary, but we are firm believers that conscious capitalism has the capacity to resonate positively throughout communities, if the model is skewed toward drivers beyond the economic. The role of the story, realised with integrity and creativity, is the glue that binds communities and propels the purposeful use of energy and resources. We’ve really enjoyed watching social enterprises come into existence through community funding models, such as kickstarter, that encourage society to become the real shareholders in the world of ideas and innovation around them. It’s just important that this goodwill doesn’t descend into hubris.
Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers?
Ubuweb – A marvellous, expansive audio reliquary of avant-garde sound (and other), art and story pioneering.
Transom – An infinite and great resource for both experienced and novice radio producers.
Cowbird – A terrible name, but a great space for digital mythology.
Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter?
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
There are too many opportunities, if anything. The podcast runs on the smell of an oily complexion, so we are always open to the idea of assistance and fresh blood, which makes us sound like the Red Cross, but we’re not.
We’d love to hear from contributors, experienced folk who want to spend industrious hours of sound editing, novices with passion for storytelling, illustrators with imagination, producers with a knack for harvesting and exacting ideas that evoke the sound of the Antipodes, anyone willing to work in our propaganda department, and media lawyers and accountants with some goodwill to spare.
Our readers are smart, creative, talented and good-looking. Here’s your chance to ask them anything.
Can we borrow 100 bucks?
In an overcrowded market of ideas, what do you want to hear more or less of on the sound waves? What makes you cringe? What makes you beam? What makes your hand hover over the volume dial?
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
It would have to be Bar Hachimonjiya, in Kyoto, Japan.
This is how Lonely Planet sums it up: “Professional photographer Kai Fusayoshi has been running this Kiyamachi bar for 28 years (and has been documenting life in Kyoto for even longer). Piled on the ends of the bar, on tables in the corner and on the floor are mountains of photo books, magazines and exhibition flyers — the steady accumulation of decades. The bar stools are dangerously unstable and the beer tap rattles violently, but the hard-drinking regulars do not seem to mind — they are too busy lobbing provocations across the counter. Presiding over all of this is Fusayoshi himself, in jeans and sweatshirt, still boiling water on the stove in a saucepan for every glass of oyuwari (shōchū liquor mixed with hot water), instead of using a kettle.”
Closer to home, we’re mourning the loss of Rue Bebelon, on Little Lonsdale, and haven’t really found a substitute – though we keep finding ourselves at Trunk, on the corner of Lt Lonsdale and Exhibition, Melbourne.
What is your favourite song by an Australian artist at the moment?
Tough pick. Edging past the finish line is Tame Impala’s – Apocalypse Dreams.